Homemade Chickarina Soup Recipe

Make this awesome canned soup at home—even down to the bouncy meatballs.

Overhead closeup of a spoon holding up a bite of homemade chickarina soup directly above the bowl.

Serious Eats / Yvonne Ruperti

Why This Recipe Works

  • Grinding chicken breast to a coarse paste in a food processor makes meatballs that are tender as well as bouncy.
  • Breadcrumbs and parmesan keep the meatballs tender and add flavor.
  • Adding baking soda helps the meatballs absorb broth as they cook, making them plump and moist.

As a working single mother, my mom often relied on the convenience of both instant and canned soups. Without a doubt I've tasted them all over the years, and I really can't say that there was a canned soup that I haven't liked. That said, the funnily named Chickarina was close to my heart. This canned soup by Progresso was a blast to eat: hearty broth with chunks of chicken, tiny pasta balls, and meaty chicken meatballs. I haven't had Chickarina soup in years, but instead of buying a can I tried making a full made-from-scratch, home-simmered version.

The most challenging part of this soup was to duplicate the special texture of the chicken meatballs, so I first went through a quick round of meatball testing. I knew it would take a few tries to crack the code.

Getting the Meatballs in Shape

Going on memory, I wanted a flavorful meatball that was soft, smooth but meaty, and with some spring in the bite—a texture that's definitely different from your average meatball. Could I get the bounce by making it tough? As Kenji explains, overworking ground meat causes the proteins to get sticky and cross-link with each other, creating a denser structure. Salting the meat before cooking also contributes to a firmer texture. So I took pre-ground chicken and manhandled it to the point where it got really pasty and sticky. The result: It definitely became firmer with a chewier bite, but it was also a bit tough.

Springy meatballs of every variety are a popular in Asian dishes, which is where I found my answer. A few home recipes for these types of meatballs incorporate a food processor to purée chunks of raw chicken breast to a smooth consistency before shaping into balls. Intrigued, I riffed off of a recipe by The Waitakere Redneck's Kitchen, whose method processes cubes of uncooked chicken breast into a paste. But instead of the meat getting tougher, the result was almost mushy (remember chicken roll lunchmeat?).

For my Chickarina meatballs, I decided not to purée the meat completely smooth but to pulse the meat into a coarse paste. The result was just a bit springy while still retaining a meaty element.

The results of meatball testing. Four meatballs have been cut in half to reveal the interior structure: loose ground chicken, stirred ground chicken, coarse paste breast meat, and puréed breast meat.

Serious Eats / Yvonne Ruperti

See the photo above for the difference in texture between lightly handled pre-ground, strongly stirred pre-ground meat, chicken breast processed to a coarse paste, and puréed chicken breast. Don't sweat it if you process the meat until puréed—the meatballs are still pretty delectable.

Keep 'Em Porous and Juicy

To keep the cooked texture from being too dense, a bit of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese do a great job at both tenderizing and adding flavor, but I found that the real secret ingredient is baking powder. As the meatballs cook in the hot broth, they swell and absorb a bit of the broth. The result is amazingly moist meatballs.

The Rest of the Soup

To make Chickarina soup from scratch, you basically prepare chicken three ways: chicken meatballs, chunks of chicken, and a flavorful chicken broth. I could've made it a heck of a lot easier by using prepared chicken stock as the base, but that would be cheating, so instead I made a quick stock with chicken thighs and drumsticks, and used the meat to go into the soup. This takes about 45 minutes, during which time the meatball mixture can be mixed up and chilled until ready to cook.

The last question was at what point to cook the meatballs in the soup. I didn't want to overcook either the meatballs or the tiny pearl pasta. In the end, I found that the meatballs are not adversely affected if left in the simmering liquid (they even improve overnight). The pasta could be cooked last.

Chickarina soup at home: fun to make, and even more fun to eat.

September 2013

Recipe Details

Homemade Chickarina Soup Recipe

Active 90 mins
Total 90 mins
Serves 4 to 6 servings

Make this awesome canned soup at home—even down to the bouncy meatballs.


  • 1 3/4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch pieces (see note)

  • 1/4 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth (see note)

  • 2 tablespoons bread crumbs

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 small clove garlic, halved

  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

  • 1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra for serving on the side

  • Pinch white pepper

  • 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)

  • 1 large carrot, diced (about 1 cup)

  • 2 stalks celery, diced (about 1 cup)

  • 1 cup pearl pasta or Israeli couscous (see note)

  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley to garnish


  1. Place chicken thighs and drumsticks in stock pot, add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, bay leaf, and 10 cups water. Heat on medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer until meat is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming off fat from the top. Transfer meat to plate and when cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones and cut into bite size pieces. Strain stock and reserve.

  2. While stock is simmering, make meatballs: Place chicken breast pieces, chicken broth, bread crumbs, baking powder, garlic, 2 teaspoons oil, cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, and white pepper in food processor. Pulse until a paste is formed (do not purée). Transfer to bowl, cover and chill (see note).

  3. When the stock is ready, cook the soup: Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, celery and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until just beginning to soften, 3 to 5 minutes (If using Israeli couscous, only cook for 1 minute).

  4. Add reserved stock (from simmered leg meat), bring to simmer, then remove from heat. Using a very small scoop or hands (see note), drop meatballs into soup. Return to heat and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and cook until al dente, following package directions for timing. Season to taste with salt and serve with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley over the top.

Special Equipment

Food processor


If you can't find a pearl shaped pasta use Israeli couscous with the following changes to the instructions to allow for the extra cooking time of the Israeli couscous: in step 3, cook the vegetables for just 1 minute and cook the couscous until tender, about 30 minutes before cooking the meatballs.

If you have up to a cup or so of the canned chicken broth used for the meatballs, it can be added to the soup. You can use pre-ground chicken for the meatballs, but the end result won't be as bouncy as per the instructions.

To form the meatballs by hand, grab a handful of meatball mix and gently squish a small bit through your hand, through the thumb and forefinger until it's the size of a small meatball. Using a spoon, cut it away from your hand and drop into the soup. For a video guide, see The Waitakere Redneck's Kitchen. It may look strange but it works!

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
432 Calories
23g Fat
21g Carbs
35g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 432
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 23g 30%
Saturated Fat 6g 28%
Cholesterol 141mg 47%
Sodium 452mg 20%
Total Carbohydrate 21g 8%
Dietary Fiber 2g 9%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 35g
Vitamin C 6mg 31%
Calcium 115mg 9%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 520mg 11%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)